Charles Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carrol, took a deep dive into children’s literature and came out with the beloved classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: a tale of the whimsical journey of young Alice through a fairy tale land in which she engages with many magical happenings and peculiar characters. Despite the innocence of such a tale, Dodgson himself seems to be a point of controversy. Not only is his photography under fire, in which a popular subject of his photos were young girls, some of which were taken in less-than appropriate attire, and even nude, as well as having a fixation, and possible inappropriate relationship, with an Alice Liddell to which the piece of fiction is more or less inspired by (Masters). These points have split views on Dodgson, as one flags his behavior as wildly inappropriate and the other more sympathetic and views his actions less as predatory and rather just overly friendly to his “child friends” (The Guardian) .Though I have my own opinion on the matter, Perhaps there is another take on Dodgson’s behavior. After reading Hemmings’s take on nostalgia, maybe it’s possible that Dodgson’s employs nostalgia as a way for him to experience life lived as a young girl.
In Robert Hemmings’s take on nostalgia, there is the point that it is an adult concept that re-materializes childhood in a manner that best comforts the adult’s wishes and wants. He specifically quotes James Kincaid , who notes that nostalgia is a concocted and enforced childhood innocence by adults toward children (Hemmings 56). If you look at nostalgia by this definition, then you see it as a desire to go back not specifically to something the nostalgic person had before, but what they could have possibly had. Its an envious look at childhood mixed with wishful thinking of just what could have been. It is also brought up that nostalgia is a sort of imperialism that is meant to take over the realness of the past (57). If we define nostalgia as this sort of social imperialism and apply it to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, then we get an understanding of that sort of reconstruction of truth at hand.
When I apply these concepts to Dodgson and look at his troubling interest in retrospect, I see that Dodgson quite possibly struggled with gender identity and had longed to have experienced childhood as a young girl. When observing his behaviors, his other actions, his thoughts, his infatuation and borderline obsession, and applying it to the context of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it easily comes off that he wished to live vicariously, through this imperialistic view of nostalgia, as a little girl, specifically as a fictitious version of Alice Liddell, his most beloved subject.
In the story, Alice very frequently asks questions about her identity, as during her time in Wonderland, she doesn’t ever quite feel like herself as she’s experiencing these magical things around her. This is especially so when she’s comparing herself to her peers, which I feel is a subtle hint to Dodgson’s questioning who he truly is in relation to those around him. Another reason to suspect this is at the end when it’s revealed that it is all a dream and then leaps into the perspective of the older sister. The sister can briefly capture the world it is Alice had just experienced, but soon opens her eyes to acknowledge that she, indeed, still in the world she was before, can be an allusion to Dodgson’s temporary moment in this state of living, via the text. This moment allows readers into Dodgson’s actual perception by breaking the barrier of the fictional world and bridging into Dodgson’s real life desires.
Though Dodgson’s behaviors are definitely something to be called in question, the idea that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is quite possibly a way of Dodgson expressing his wanting to have experienced childhood as a young girl, and finds himself as one who views young adulthood through the eyes of a child, his own forgotten and replaced by a re-imagining of this beloved fantasy world.
“Just Good Friends? Was There Something Sinister About Lewis Carroll’s Fixation With seven-year-old Alice Liddell? Not Necessarily, Says Katie Roiphe.” The Guardian US Edition, The Guardian 29 Oct, 2001 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/oct/29/gender.uk
“A Taste of Nostalgia: Children’s Books from the Golden Age—Carroll, Grahame, and Milne” Hemmings, Robert, https://s3.us-east-1.amazonaws.com
“Who Really Inspired Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’ Characters?” Masters, Kristen, 27 August, 2014 https://blog.bookstellyouwhy.com/who-really-inspired-lewis-carrolls-alice-characters